Three members of the Mississippi Braves’ original opening day roster from 2005 are on MLB postseason teams this year. Catcher Brian McCann, the first M-Brave to get the big league ticket, is with Houston – along with fellow ex-M-Braves Charlie Morton, Evan Gattis and James Hoyt – heading into the American League Division Series battle with Boston. Right-hander Blaine Boyer, who was the second M-Brave to be promoted to Atlanta, works out of the Red Sox’s bullpen, as does Craig Kimbrel. Outfielder Gregor Blanco, who waited a little longer – until 2008 – than McCann and Boyer to make The Show, is a bench player for Arizona, which hosts Colorado in tonight’s National League wild card game. Blanco has had a journeyman career but has played in 37 postseason games and won two World Series rings – with San Francisco in 2012 and ’14. Released by the Giants after last season, Blanco signed with the Diamondbacks. In 90 games, the speedy left-handed hitter batted .246 with three homers, 13 RBIs, 43 runs and 15 steals. He is also a good defensive outfielder. His advice for his D-backs teammates, many of whom are making their first postseason appearance? “Have fun and play the game,” Blanco told sfgate.com. “Whatever happens, happens.” P.S. Several other former Jackson area Double-A connections are with teams who made the postseason, including ex-Jackson Mets shortstop Ron Gardenhire, now Arizona’s bench coach, and ex-JaxMets infielder Dave Magadan, the D’backs’ hitting coach. Former JaxMets pitcher Neil Allen is the pitching coach for Minnesota, which was eliminated Tuesday by the New York Yankees. M-Braves alum Chasen Shreve, a Las Vegas native who threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Yankee Stadium, is a reliever for the Yanks. Dave Hudgens, a onetime Jackson Generals hitting coach, now fills that role for Houston. M-Braves products Alex Wood and Luis Avilan pitch for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Jason Heyward and Tommy LaStella play for the Chicago Cubs. … Tuesday marked the end of an era in Tampa Bay with the unexpected departure – by mutual agreement? — of former Generals pitching coach Jim Hickey from the Rays’ staff. Hickey has been the Rays’ pitching coach for 11 years. He’ll have no trouble finding another job. Also on Tuesday, Seattle announced that ex-JaxMets shortstop Tim Bogar will not return as bench coach.
Former Vancleave High star Colin Bray, a birthday boy on Saturday, celebrated with a pair of home runs for Class A Visalia in the Arizona organization. Bray, a 23-year-old center fielder, has scuffled a bit this year at the high-A level. He told milb.com it has been a good test and he’ll be better for it. Considered a rising prospect, Bray now has a four-game hit streak that has lifted his average to .241, with three homers, 26 RBIs and 34 runs in 64 games. He is a .283 hitter over his four-year pro career. Arizona picked Bray in the sixth round out of an Alabama junior college in 2013. P.S. St. Louis has signed all three of its picks from Mississippi in this year’s draft. Mississippi State’s Dakota Hudson, drafted 34th overall as the first Magnolia State player to be called, signed for a cool $2 million, it was announced on Saturday. The Cardinals also signed Hudson’s teammate Austin Sexton (18th round) on Saturday and earlier in the week inked Walker Robbins (fifth round) from George County High. All three figure to debut in the rookie Gulf Coast League. … Last year’s top pick from the state, DeSoto Central product Austin Riley, is batting .256 with three homers at 26 RBIs for Rome, Atlanta’s low Class A club. The top pick from 2014, Blake Anderson out of West Lauderdale, made his 2016 debut on Saturday, going 0-for-4 for Batavia, a short-season Class A team in Miami’s system. Anderson batted .220 with two homers at Batavia in 2015.
Ex-Mississippi State standout Chad Girodo, in Toronto’s camp as a non-roster invitee, might have a legitimate chance to make the club out of spring training. “(H)e’s on the radar and you’re always looking for lefties who can get lefties out,” manager John Gibbons told mlb.com. Drafted in 2013, the 25-year-old Girodo advanced through three levels of the minors last season. He began the year in Class A Dunedin, moved to Double-A New Hampshire and then made a brief appearance with Triple-A Buffalo. He posted a combined 1.34 ERA while striking out 58 in 60 1/3 innings and also pitched well in the Arizona Fall League. He has not allowed a run in 1 2/3 innings this spring for a Blue Jays team that is a little thin in the bullpen. … Tyler Moore, another ex-Bulldogs star, hit his first home run on Wednesday for Washington. Coming off a 2015 season – his fourth in the big leagues — in which he batted .203 with six homers in 187 at-bats, Moore is just 2-for-16 this spring as he tries to win a job on the bench under new manager Dusty Baker. “It’s not an easy job at all and it’s sometimes very frustrating because you feel like you can contribute so much more than what you actually do,” Moore told federalbaseball.com about being a reserve. Moore is wearing No. 32 now, having given up his old No. 12 to Baker. That might be worth a few brownie points. … Though he isn’t expected to have an impact for Arizona this year, former Vancleave High star Colin Bray is certainly a player to keep an eye on. The switch-hitting outfielder, who got an at-bat in an MLB spring game on Tuesday, is rated the No. 24 prospect in the Diamondbacks’ organization, and the MLBPipeline report on him is fairly glowing: speed, defense, make-up. At Class A Kane County in 2015, the 6-foot-3, 197-pound Bray batted .308 with three homers, 52 RBIs and 27 steals. Bray, 22, a sixth-round pick out of Faulkner State (Ala.) Community College in 2013, could make it to Double-A Mobile in the Southern League this summer.
First impression of MGM Park in Biloxi: intimate. Listed seating capacity of the new ballpark is 5,000, and each one is relatively close to the field. (On the downside, the park offers very little cover from the rain or sun.) The power alley distances are marked as 350 feet, which would seem to be a hitter’s dream. But on this particular night, when the air was heavy from a pregame storm, none of the 23 hits mustered by the Shuckers and visiting Chattanooga Lookouts came close to leaving the yard. The stadium backdrop is unique. The Beau Rivage towers above the center-field wall and dominates the view. MGM owns the Beau, and Shuckers ads and paraphernalia are everywhere in the Casino & Hotel. Construction is ongoing at the park, which is obvious. Lots of orange barrels, cones and tape. An announced crowd of 4,482 turned out for this Friday night game despite a 1-hour, 41-minute rain delay. (Yes, there were postgame fireworks.) The product they’re seeing on the field is a good one. The parent Milwaukee Brewers stacked the Double-A club with prospects, and the Shuckers won the first-half title in the SL South despite playing mostly road games. (MGM Park opened June 6.) They lost on this particular night, 6-5, but had the winning run on second base in the ninth. Shortstop Orlando Arcia, who’ll be in the big leagues soon, went 1-for-3 with two RBIs, and center fielder Michael Reed shined on defense, throwing out two runners. One of Chattanooga’s stars was former Ole Miss player Stuart Turner, who had three of the team’s 14 hits. In sum: Nice park, good game, fun time. P.S. Continuing on a Coastal theme, former Vancleave High standout Colin Bray is on a tear at Class A Kane County in the Arizona system. The switch-hitting outfielder, in his third pro season, is batting .296 with 15 doubles, 30 RBIs and 15 steals. He won Midwest League player of the week honors for July 6-12. And ex-George County High star Justin Steele, a fifth-round pick by the Chicago Cubs in 2014, is 3-0 with a 1.08 ERA in five starts at short-season Class A Eugene.
Still think Billy Hamilton will win the National League Rookie of the Year award. But it has become a competitive race. Jacob DeGrom, David Peralta and perhaps even Yangervis Solarte may garner support from voters down the stretch. Former Taylorsville High star Hamilton, Cincinnati’s leadoff batter and center fielder, has 56 stolen bases. That’s his eye-grabbing number. He has also hit a surprising six home runs, scored 72 times and driven in 48 runs in 147 games. Plus, he’s played great defense. But a September swoon (.146) has pulled his batting average down to .256, and his on-base percentage is a weak .298. He also has been caught stealing 23 times. DeGrom has surged of late and has posted an 8-6 record with a 2.68 ERA and 113 strikeouts in 134 1/3 innings for the New York Mets. Playing in the Big Apple also helps the shaggy-haired right-hander. Peralta, an outfielder for Arizona, is batting .293 (.326 OBP) with seven homers, 34 RBIs, 38 runs and nine triples. And then there’s Solarte, San Diego’s third baseman, who is batting .263 with 10 homers, 48 RBIs and 53 runs. Hamilton may need to lean hard at the tape to pull this win out.
In 1994, Buck Showalter won the American League manager of the year award with the New York Yankees. In 2004, the former Mississippi State standout won the award again with the Texas Rangers. So now it’s 2014, and at the All-Star break, Showalter has his Baltimore Orioles in first place in the AL East, defying preseason predictions that had the O’s finishing closer to the bottom in a strong division. Could another manager of the year award be in the offing? The Orioles have a nice array of hitters — Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Nick Markakis, Manny Machado, et al. — but could use some pitching help, especially if they hope to make any noise in October. What Showalter surely would like more than a managerial award is to make the postseason — and then make a playoff run. Despite a .517 winning percentage over 16 seasons as an MLB skipper, Showalter, 58, has made just three playoff appearances (1995 Yankees, ’99 Arizona Diamondbacks and ’12 Orioles) and never seen his club get past the division series. That’s a trend he’d like to buck. His best team might have been the ’94 Yankees, who were 70-43 when the season was halted by the players’ strike. The core of that team won the World Series in 1996, but Showalter had moved on by that time, fired after the ’95 season. He was also canned in Texas in 2005, one year after winning the managerial award there. Showalter is in his fifth season in Baltimore, which is longer than he stayed at any of his previous three stops. Maybe this is his team and this is his time. P.S. Zack Cozart isn’t hitting much for Cincinnati. The Ole Miss product is batting .233 with two homers, 22 RBIs and 30 runs in 90 games. But the reason the playoff-hungry Reds keep him in the lineup can be seen in another set of numbers. Cozart, in his third season as Cincy’s shortstop, has a .982 fielding percentage (seven errors in 393 chances) and leads all National League shortstops with a 2.2 Defensive Wins Above Replacement rating. Former Mississippi Braves star Andrelton Simmons, by comparison, has a 1.4 DWAR for Atlanta.
Even though there are 50 games left in the Southern League season, the next five may be bigger than most for the Mississippi Braves. The M-Braves, 12-8 and running second in the SL South, play host to first-place Mobile (13-7) in a five-game series at Trustmark Park that begins tonight. Mobile, an Arizona Diamondbacks affiliate, won the first half in the division. The BayBears lead the league in ERA (3.13) and runs (433), a pretty good combination. The M-Braves, however, are right on their heels. They actually have a better team batting average (a league-best .269) to go with a 3.59 ERA (third) and 397 runs (fourth). Bottom line: This ought to be a whale of a series. Even with the recent loss to injury of slugger Seth Loman (11 homers, 53 RBIs), the M-Braves can trot out a pretty impressive lineup; they’ve got nine players batting .271 or better. Recent newcomers Kyle Wren (.368) and Daniel Castro (.355) have adjusted quite well to Double-A pitching. Jose Peraza is clipping along with a .342 average, and Cedric Hunter is at .319 with nine homers and 47 RBIs. Jake Lamb, a prospect at third base, leads Mobile with a .314 average, 13 bombs and 68 RBIs. Jason Hursh (6-6, 4.08) takes the bump for Mississippi in the opener (7 p.m.), facing A.J. Schugel (4-1, 3.81).